Across the US, in response to the outpouring of rebellion in the wake of a tidal wave of police murders, a handful of cops have been charged, several have been fired, and a few have simply quit. Those in power, from president Obama to the local police chiefs, rush to make cosmetic changes to an ever militarizing police force. They hurry to buy police body cameras while at the same time departments spend millions on decommissioned military vehicles and weapons to suppress future rebellions.
They say the conversation on policing and race and America has changed, but the daily reality of American life continues to produce piles of dead bodies and millions of people incarcerated. Since Mike Brown’s murder by Ferguson police, over 1,100 people have been killed by law enforcement in the United States.
We aren’t in a crisis of policing – we’re in the middle of a war.
“That’s the Only Way Motherfuckers Like You Listen!”
At the same time, due to the ongoing rebellions in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Oakland, those in the “opposition,” from the unions, to Jackson and Sharpton, to the Nation of Islam, have all intensified their rhetoric. The commemoration for the ‘Million Man March’ is entitled, “Justice or Else!” The recent disruptions of the Presidential debates, from Sanders to Clinton to Bush all point to a growing anger at politics as usual and an acceptance of more radical action. But these protests also continue this idea that if “justice” is not served, there will be consequences. “If you don’t negotiate with us, we’ll set the rabble loose!,” say the activists and politicians in waiting.
But it hasn’t been the ‘leaders’ of the official Black Lives Matter group, the New Black Panthers, or any of the leftist parties that have pushed the current uprisings; the revolts have by and large been carried out by the people themselves and the youth in particular. In Baltimore, it was high-schoolers who trashed cop cars and threw stones at police, driving them out of the neighborhood. In Ferguson, it was the neighborhood of Canfield which fought back every night for weeks in the face of a military occupation. It was a collection of graffiti writers, youth of color, and anarchists who held the streets and blocked freeways in Oakland for close to a month.
During these rebellions, the “official” organizations, whether the Democratic Party or the non-profits, were all trying to smoother the uprisings. Now, they hope to turn this energy into votes and new members. But while the official groups try to match their rhetoric to the actions of the people, all they have as leverage against those in power to make changes is the actions of the people they hope to drown out. “Listen to us and we will make sure there isn’t a riot,” they say. “Make these changes, put us in power, and there won’t be an uprising.”
But things must change, everything must change.
The riots were just the start, we must go much further.
“Rise the Fuck Up! Shut that Shit Down!”
Buildings have been burned, freeways have been blocked, and millions of dollars of property and police equipment has been destroyed. “But nothing has changed,” we hear people say over and over again. And they are right.
With each cycle of revolt, things only seem to get worse. The anti-war movement, the student movement, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter – all of these moments were largely based around the idea of exacting a cost on a system in order to push it to make structural changes. From blocked freeways, to burned buildings, to shaming hashtags, “Here, have a taste of our anger,” was our mindset.
But those in power became quite adapt at making changes – changes that didn’t amount to shit. Their rhetoric changed; they said words like, “the 99%” and “Black Lives Matter,” around election time. They put cameras on police, but in the end the cameras are still pointed at us. They took healthcare away from prisoners and diverted it into higher education. They passed laws upping the minimum wage to $15 in several years time; keeping us squarely locked in poverty. All the while, this society continues to break down and the collapse of the ecological system continues to hurtle us towards apocalypse.
The militant movements of the last several years have been failures because they have only sought to generate reforms from the present system, even if they didn’t make demands. We went into the streets knowing something was wrong, but in the back of our minds we hoped those in power would listen to us and make changes.
Those in the Left groups with their newspapers claimed we lacked a vanguard party to guide us. The unions claimed we lacked representation in the workplace. The churches and mosques said we lacked moral superiority in the face of state violence. The non-profits whined we had a poor outreach strategy.
The riots, blockades, occupations, and shut-downs failed because they didn’t go far enough.
Revolutions that go half-way, dig their own grave.
“If I die in police custody, don’t let my parents talk to…Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, or any of the motherfuckers who would destroy my name.”
Being a revolutionary in the present terrain means knowing that things aren’t going to get better; that currently there are no reforms that the system can grant that will get us out of the current crisis. Those in power will continue to offer only more repression, surveillance, incarceration, and policing to quell in rebellion, while also attempting to placate to popular anger by attempting to offer cosmetic changes or “expand the dialog.”
But what would a revolutionary strategy look like? What has already taken place in the streets that can show us a way forward? In the past several years, across the world, from Oakland to Egypt, we’ve seen the proliferation of various tactics and strategies – all responding to a historical moment of crisis that defines our era.
We have seen the proliferation of occupations, whether in camps, squares, or buildings. These communal spaces serve as a vehicle to get organized from and meet the needs of the insurgents involved. We saw this in many Occupy camps, in Tahrir square, and in Ferguson around the burned QT building. All insurrections need bases of operations; they need space. But we have to push and expand this space, into schools and universities (such as in various occupations across Chile and Europe), in occupied union halls and workplaces (such as in Greece), and into public areas and whole regions (such as in Turkey at Gezi Park, throughout the Rojava Revolution in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, indigenous blockades of pipelines such as across Canada, and at the ZAD in France).
Autonomy is power.
Beyond just being a place where people talk and make plans, these places need to expand the communal activity of people organizing themselves and meeting their needs directly. But such space will always need to be defended. Whether it is the streets of Ferguson from the police and the National Guard, or the occupied Egyptian squares, rioting has been the offensive capacity by which people have defended themselves from government forces and expanded their territories.
“Let them know, that my sisters got this!”
Rioting, in a defensive and offensive capacity also allows people to attack the infrastructure of the enemy: namely the police, surveillance systems, and the like. However, beyond bank windows and burned patrol cars, the use of blockades has proven to be a very effective tactic in shutting down the flows of capital, stopping the construction of a project, and preventing the movement of state forces. We can see this most spectacularly in the indigenous struggles in Canada (such as the Mi’kmaq and Unist’ot’en), where Native groups are setting up encampments to stop the development of fracked oil pipelines.
But these tactics by themselves are just that, tactics. Blockading a freeway against white supremacy might be the start of a longer revolutionary struggle or a way to gather our forces, but simply going onto a freeway and hoping that something will materialize (or worse yet, someone will listen,) is delusional thinking. If we want to build a revolutionary force capable of destroying this system of domination, white supremacy, and exploitation, then we have to think about tactics in terms of a strategy.
Thinking about a strategy means paying attention to the situation we are in both locally where we live, but also nationally and internationally. We have to think about how the Left and those that try and control social struggles will react and try and hinder our efforts. We have to think about how the state will try and repress us for attacking the social order.
But above all, we have to think about how our actions can grow, expand, become more powerful, and ultimately link up with others across the social terrain.
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